The gentle orange glow of a Nixie display tube has held a special place in the hearts of DIY device builders for as long as I can remember but they seem to be undergoing something of a mainstream revival of late. Many are used as clock displays (as evidenced by our recent coverage of the Ramos alarm clock and ThinkGeek’s DIY Nixie Tube Desk Clock kit), due to the most common tube featuring a stack of numerical cathodes. Some display scientific symbols, of course, and its these Nixie tubes that have been used in the creation of the gorgeous chess board you see above. Developer Tony Adams (otherwise known as Lasermad) has received such a positive response to his design that he's decided to sell a limited number as self-build kits.
The warm glow from a vintage Nixie tube is somewhat deceptive as not much heat is given off at all by the gas-filled tubes. This makes ex-Soviet Nixie gas display tubes from the 1980s a good fit for use as chess pieces, especially when air-core transformers are placed under each square of the chess board to power the tubes in a similar fashion to an induction charging system.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
There is one potential issue if using the board as more than a display piece, though. Both sides glow the same orange color, which could make identifying opposing pieces during game-play an interesting proposition. To get around this issue, there's a subtle color difference to piece bases (gold or silver) , but Lasermad told us that they "could be painted with greater contrasting colors if the builder wanted."
Lasermad says that the limited number of kits now being made available for self-build are not intended for beginners, although photograph-based instructions will be provided with each purchase. Construction involves the placement of many surface mount components and buyers will need to be confident soldering small parts. It's also reckoned that the build will take around a week's worth of "spare time" assembly to complete.
The various components necessary for the supply of a small batch of numbered kits have now been secured and there are a few kit options to choose from. The full Neon Jacket version includes all the components needed to build a fully working Nixie chess set. There's a huge printed circuit board (PCB) for the chessboard and 32 PCBs for the pieces, NOS Tufnol and phenolic resin laminate case materials, brass dome nuts, bolts and thumb nuts, enameled copper wire for the coils and 25 IN-7 Nixie tubes and 9 IN-7A flavors.
Kit builders will need to provide their own 12V/2A power supply, as well as wirecutters, sandpaper, soldering iron and such like. This kit is priced at £172 (US$268) plus shipping costs.
There's also a hardware kit for £140 ($218) that's supplied without the Nixie tubes, and a budget kit for £130 ($202) that's also tube-free but is supplied with standard brass hex nuts instead of the better looking fittings of the other kits. For those who want to design their own boards, Lasermad can supply just the electronic components and PCBs for £69 ($108).
The following demonstration video shows the pieces being replaced for the start of a new game: